Off the beaten track...
Java was a totally new experience, having been to Bali we were looking for somewhere a lot quieter and less developed and, quite frankly, less spoilt by tourism. When our brother in law suggested heading for a little known gentle surf break in West Java we were totally up for it. We began searching how to get there and there was just such little information it made the whole thing even more exciting and the promise of adventure arose. We had to leave Indonesia as our visa was running out (you get 30 days with European passports) so we thought about heading over to Singapore for a few nights to check out the city. After looking into it we decided to save the hundreds of euros we would have spent per night on accommodation and instead slept on the floor of Changi airport for one night and flew straight to Bandung, Java the next morning. We had a night in Bandung which was a sprawling hot, smoggy city and by this point on our travels we just didn’t feel like exploring so took a nice hotel, used the facilities and chilled out.
From here we made our way south to Batu Karas which was a six hour car ride. Here we checked in to the lovely RNV guesthouse where we were made super welcome and ended up friends with the family there. The small town sits on the Green Canyon, the most stunning palm-lined river which one day we actually hiked and floated down in lifejackets and helmets, as well as being located on the surf break I mentioned which is absolutely perfect for everyone. Our kids were surfing every day for hours, their confidence and skills picked up massively and the beach, though hot, volcanic sand, was clean and quite beautiful. The sunsets were heavenly as were the fresh papaya and lime juices which cost around one euro!
One day when the surf wasn’t really happening we decided to take a Land Rover tour with an awesome guide called Alfan, who also ended up being a friend. We took two 4x4s over the ridges and through valleys and rocky rivers of totally untouched land until we arrived at a private beach where we jumped around in the waves - nobody nor any buildings to be seen for miles. Here we were served the most amazing lunch of freshly caught fish cooked on the fire, Kangkung which is locally grown water spinach, Nasi Liwet which is white rice cooked in coconut milk, chicken broth, salam leaves and lemongrass, and some fried tempeh and tofu all served with their homemade chilli sambal and kecap manis. This was literally one of the best meals we have all ever had, they laid it all out on huge banana leaves serving as a tablecloth as well as your plate; we ate it all with our hands and savoured every bite then washing it down with some jasmine tea. We also tried the local drip coffee and some jungle honey…it was a brilliant day out getting to know some local people and enjoying the natural beauty of the island. We went back to the area ourselves on our motorbikes especially to try the local lobsters, we ate all the same stuff as before but this time with around thirty of these amazing fresh, small lobsters - about the size of an enormous giant prawn once you dig out the meat. So so delicious.
We also met another local man named Bono who was an incredible artist. He mainly depicted the surf break, sometimes amidst psychadelic swirls, sometimes his drawings looked like a photograph. He had given up his job as an engineer to play music, move from place to place painting and living a free nomadic life. He was a beautiful soul, genuine and honest and super funny. Java is Muslim and so every day, five times a day you hear prayers delivered over the tanoys from all the local mosques. Our place was based in a small local community of the loveliest friendliest families and the rhythm of the prayer times became part of our own rhythm too. There was something very meaningful and deep about their devotion being so apparent and so consistent. Rather than it being something one might set out to do, prayer is simply an intrinsic part daily life, as commonplace and important as meal times.
Riding our motorbikes around the village and surrounding towns scouting out local eateries was a huge part of our trip here. Though plucking up the courage to ride across the bouncy bamboo bridge (for motorbikes only - it is not very wide!) was challenging but worth it when you find a buffet lunch full of weird and wonderful local foods. Beef rendang, fish wrapped in banana leaves, ayam bakar, the spiciest vegetables, cassava leaf curry, and plenty more. We all ate (ten of us) for about 15€. We also found a foodie spot, Dapoer Kampoeng Restaurant in Green Canyon, where a local man and his French wife and two daughters have turned their grandmother’s house into an amazing restaurant serving traditional Sundanese food made to an exceptionally high standard! We went time and time again and once they even delivered take away to our guest house and the whole place ate together in the communal area.
We only stayed for just over three weeks but in this time we managed to start to feel like part of the family of Batu Karas, everyone was so welcoming and happy to talk and help. A lovely local man, Usep, who maintains the guesthouse we stayed at, even invited us to his sister’s wedding which was a day long affair (8am until 2am) whereby the whole town and more turn up throughout the day and night to bring gifts and well wishes, eat masses of food and watch the entertainment and of course chat to the bride and groom - who had four costume changes in total! This was a beautiful experience which we were honoured to attend.
The other travellers we met in Batu Karas were just that, travellers, as opposed to tourists. They were all interesting people from all over who veer off the beaten track and seek out certain surf spots. We were leaving Java from Jakarta which, if you take the main method of transport - car - it takes anywhere between twelve and sixteen hours! It’s a long slog which we were loathe to take on and instead asked around to see what people thought of the local airport and the tiny twelve seater plane that flies direct to Jakarta in only one hour! Everyone promoted the idea that had tried it saying that you could liken it to a plane ride that you’d pay for as a sight seeing trip. We were sold. You go to the one runway airport and there is one young man there with a computer who you pay cash to for your tickets and after handwriting all your information issues you a ticket! We took the plane and happened to be flying alongside the CEO of the airline and his second in command, a lovely English man who told us all about the company. When we arrived safely, and having seen so many sights due to the plane flying much lower than regular commercial flights, he let my son Noah sit in the cockpit and have a little flying lesson from the Austrian pilot. Then we just meandered across the runway at our own pace and had to figure out where the exit was!
All in all Java was a delight, we will definitely return there if we venture over to Indonesia again for a lot more ‘bagus’ (good times, good vibes, good anything) and delicious food and the most accommodating surf and community we’ve come across so far.